Mi-Figue Mi-Raisin

What’s tastier? A fig or a grape? If you can’t choose, that’s okay, because the French have an expression for that:



Literally translated as “half fig half grape,” mi-figue mi-raisin is used as an adjective to mean that a thing, a statement, or a person is ambiguous, or mixed: half good and half bad, half pleasant and half unpleasant, half happy and half sad, half willing and half reluctant, half serious and half joking*… The exact nature of the ambiguity is inferred from the context.


By the way, raisin is a false cognate. Though it sounds like the English raisin, un raisin is actually the word for “grape” in French. Un raisin sec means “dried grape,” which is what a raisin technically is. It’s similar to the plum and prune mix-up: the English plum is une prune in French, and le pruneau is the dried plum, a.k.a. prune in English.



Origins


This idiom first appeared in the 15th century, but the reasoning behind it is unclear. Dried figs and raisins (i.e. dried grapes) were both eaten during Lent, and the latter were more prized than the former, which could explain the dichotomy implied between the two. Other sources indicate that it could come from the fact that Greek merchants, who sold currants (in French, raisins de Corinthe), would occasionally try to cheat by hiding figs, which were cheaper and heavier, at the bottom of the bags. The second explanation suggests that a possible translation could include the phrase mixed bag (in addition to lukewarm, so-so or neither fish nor fowl, depending on the context.)


Examples


Son livre a reçu des critiques mi-figue mi-raisin.

His book received lukewarm reviews.


Elle a déballé son cadeau et nous a remerciés d’un air mi-figue mi-raisin.

She unwrapped her gift and thanked us with a mixed expression on her face.

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